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Let's Talk About Failure

Updated: Mar 7, 2019


The not-so glamorous reality of graduate life.


I was supposed to do a post this week about 'utlising one's strengths', but you know what, I'm not feeling very strong right now. To preach about something I'm neither feeling nor practising would be pretty incongruent of me, so instead I want to take this week to talk about failure, particularly the failure and disappointments I have experienced since graduating from university.

Me graduating full of hope and excitement

In July 2018 I graduated from the University of Exeter, one of the top unis in the UK.


I spent three years there working my little butt off to come away with a 1st class English degree.


It is now March 2019 and I have just received what feels like my 100th job rejection since graduating.


It's been over half a year and I am still without a full-time, permanent job.




Let me list a few of the pretty simple, seemingly attainable jobs that I, as a 1st class university graduate, have failed to get:

  • Bookseller at Waterstones

  • Customer Assistant at Boots

  • Internship at Hachette Publisher

  • Social Work Apprenticeship at Think Ahead

  • Work Experience at RedDoor Publishing

  • Work Experience at Penguin Random House x4

  • Work Experience at Breathe Magazine

  • Library Assistant x2

And now some of the slightly more challenging, but still attainable, jobs that I have failed to get:

  • Publishing Assistant at Penguin Life

  • Publishing Operations Assistant at Penguin Random House Children's

  • Editorial Coordinator/PA at Ebury PRH

  • Editorial Assistant at Obsidian Healthcare Group

  • Editor at Pavilion Publishing

  • Assistant Editor/Editor at Penguin Life

  • Editorial Assistant at Orion Fiction

Safe to say that graduate life has not been what I've expected. It's been hard.


I've had to take monthly breaks from the job applications because the constant rejections I've been receiving have simply been too demoralising.


As tempting as it has been, however, I have not given up.


You'll see that I've even applied to the same place more than once. This is where the importance of learning to rest, not to quit comes in.


What this plethora of job rejections has also taught me is that having a degree is not a pass into a good job, or any job for that matter. In cases such as mine, it can even act as a deterrent as employers are looking for experience in the workplace, or a certain type of personality, or just general life experience rather than a certificate stating you spent x many years studying.

I feel like this and the general post-uni struggle is not spoken about when considering whether to go to university, or when at university, or even when you've finished university. There is so much pressure to attain your degree and fly with it, when in reality, for some of us this just doesn't happen. Some of us find ourselves lost, purposeless and hopeless.


Without societal expectations, the wildly off putting success of all my friends and peers, and the pressure I put on myself, I'd probably be more okay with where I am now (working at M&S, studying for a stage 2 counselling course, volunteering as a Crisis Counsellor and writing these blog posts every week). But as much as we can pretend we are fine as we are, there are these expectations to jump straight into success and there is an irresistible urge as humans to control our lives rather than simply sitting back and enjoying the ride.


The other day a lovely girl I follow on Instagram posted this:

"Life is full of the old and new, the ups and downs, the fast and slow. It's full of detours and pitstops - life is much more a squiggly line than a straight one..." (@jennamarie.fit)

I was amazed to be presented with the words that I so desperately needed to hear at that moment. It was so refreshing to consider this new perspective in which I am just on a detour right now; taking my time to explore different avenues until the right thing, my 'meant to be', comes along.


Some of the world's most successful people went on a similar detour through Failure Avenue. These people serve as the epitome of the idea that through failure comes growth and strength, and ultimately, success:


  • J.K Rowling - First Harry Potter manuscript rejected by 12 different publishers. Now bestselling author and billionaire.

  • Charles Darwin - abandoned career in medicine as he was an 'average' student. Went on to define how we understand human existence.

  • Oprah Winfrey - fired from her first TV job. Now a millionaire with her own show.

  • Walt Disney - discouraged for having no imagination. Became a cultural icon, bringing magic to so many lives.

  • Lady Gaga - got dropped from her record label. Now one of the bestselling music artists in history.

  • Elvis Presley - fired after his first performance. Became one of the world's greatest performing legends.

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” Oprah Winfrey

It is in this way that most people face failure and rejection before they reach a level of success. Psychologist Kohut coined the term 'optimal frustration', which captures the importance of failure. If we were simply handed everything we ever wished for on a silver platter, with no work or struggle required, we'd never experience the gratitude or happiness that achieving something creates. Kohut therefore suggests that there is a form of tolerable frustration and disappointment that is motivating, creating healthy challenge and the development of new coping skills.

Of course, this also means there is a point at which the frustrations that we are dealing with become too much, exceeding the optimal. I've definitely reached this point over the last 7 months and this is where, at a loss of hope and energy, it becomes important to take that break- for quitting certainly wont get you any closer to your dreams than dealing with and accepting those rejections.

"If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream." Martin Luther King Jr


I began writing this post on Wednesday, filled with frustration, hopelessness and shame after failing to acquire yet another job. It's now Sunday and in the space of the last 5 days I have been offered a job as a Mental Health Care Support Worker. Everything has turned around. Don't get me wrong, it's not my dream job, and it's not where I expected to be 7 months into graduate life. But it's a detour I am willing to take and I'm excited to see where it leads.


Take of this what you will, but my conclusion is that, as tempting as it may become to quit and give up, it really can be worth hanging on in there, as it truly is astonishing how short a time it can take for wonderful things to happen.


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